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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

Winning the Space Race — And More

September 29, 2009

It seems like only yesterday that the summer solstice set its seal on the sweet of the year, that happy season of long days and short nights and sultry weather. As things turned out, however, lazy, hazy days were in somewhat short supply. In fact, our corner of Canoe Country had an unusually cool, wet summer. But it wasn't really such a bad bargain. The rain kept the rivers running high and fast, and the chilly nights took some of the fight out of the mosquitoes. Now we're poised on the cusp of another great annual change, as the hours of night overtake the shrinking day and temperatures fall toward the freezing point. Still, we paddlers wouldn't have it any other way, would we? The backcountry seems to wake from its drowsy summer somnolence in autumn — a brief burst of furious activity before the long, deep sleep of the northern winter.

Our mail's picking up, too, as folks settle back into their workaday routines after the too‑brief summer respite. And we do our best to keep pace, though there's the usual backlog of letters from the months since the last "Our Readers Write" in late June. In any event, here's what's on tap this time around: Tips and questions on shopping for cameras and keeping them dry. Comments on the merits of double‑bladed paddles and vegetarian menus. Reminders of the danger of "whispering death." A little bit about maps that are free for the asking. And better ideas for storing our canoes and kayaks between outings — plus a request from a reader who's downsized his living space and is now looking for ways to get all his boats under cover. (Maybe you'll be the one to help him.)

Sound interesting? It is. We promise. There's something here for just about everyone who paddles. So why don't you join us as we dip into the mailbag? After all, it's "Our Readers Write," isn't it? Sure it is.

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat



Winning the Space Race — Any Ideas?

Dear Tamia,

I enjoyed your article on racking boats ["More Ways to Rack Your Boats"  — Editor]. I have used a rack somewhat like Dan's second example for years at my home.

However, I have just sold my home and am living in an apartment, so have discovered a whole new challenge. Would it be possible sometime for you to poll your readers who live in apartments as to how they store and — more importantly, I suppose — secure their boats? At this time my five canoes and two kayaks are being stored temporarily at my brother's, and I am facing the realization that I will have to downsize my fleet to possibly one of each, but I still haven't come up with an adequate solution to keeping them where I can get to them for an evening paddle any time I want.

I would love to hear if any of your readers have come up with an innovative solution to this problem.

High and dry, for now,

Michael McCain

• • •

Tamia replies:

But not for long, I hope! I'll bet that plenty of paddlers are in the same boat, Michael, and while a lot of them have probably changed over to an inflatable or folding boat that can be stored in a closet (I've got two such boats sitting on a shelf above my head as I type this, for example), it's easy to see why you wouldn't want to part with old friends. There are other solutions, I'm sure. So let's ask…

How about it, readers? Do you live in a small apartment with a big fleet of canoes and kayaks? If so, how do you manage? Don't keep the secret to yourself any longer. Send us an e‑mail. And include photos, if you wish. We'll pass your tips along to Michael, and — with your permission — reprint your letter in an article or a future edition of "Our Readers Write," so that other storage‑challenged paddlers can benefit, too. Thanks!



Making Car Racks Do Double‑Duty

Dear Tamia,

Loved your article on alternatives for boat storage! ["More Ways to Rack Your Boats"  — Editor]

We came up with a solution that allowed us to store our roof‑top racks and kayaks while still being able to put two SUVs in our rather small two‑car garage. The ceiling was too low to hang them and still put the cars inside. Plus, we lived on the lake and wanted quicker access, and we needed a place to store the racks when not in use.

We use J‑style racks to carry our Wilderness System Pungos on the roof of our Cherokee. We installed lag bolts into the sidewall of our garage, two for each J‑rack. The racks were spaced far enough apart so that the kayaks would fit in the cradles while they were hanging on the wall.

The kayaks were easy to take in and out. And because they were stored on edge, so to speak, two full‑size Jeeps would still fit inside. It really made us feel like we were getting added value from our racks since they were used all the time, not just when we needed to car‑top the boats.

Unfortunately, I don't think I ever bothered to take a picture of this set‑up, and we've now moved to a different home without a garage. We'll just have to think of something new, or try out one of the ideas from your article.

Thank you so much for the interesting articles.

Christine Wonder

• • •

Tamia replies:

Sounds like a terrific set‑up, Christine. I look forward to learning how you decide to store your boats in your new quarters. Are you bringing any of them inside the house? If so, your ideas might help Michael — and others like him, too.



A Singular Response to "Double Vision"
DB Paddle

Boo. Hiss. ["A Double‑Bladed Paddle in a Single‑Seat Canoe? Why Not?"  — Editor] For the same reason we don't use trolling motors! Because then you're not canoeing. Kayak paddles are for kayaks or for people who don't know how to paddle a canoe. There is art and grace in a canoe powered by a single blade. The double blade is just about getting there faster. (Only kidding!)

Jon Fuller
Tempe, Arizona

• • •

Tamia replied:

Very droll, Jon! Your letter brought a bit of light and warmth into a cold, dreary day. And to be honest, much of the time I, too, prefer a single‑blade paddle — but it's still good to have a double in reserve for those days when the Old Woman gets in my face.


Later, Jon wrote back:

Cold & dreary sounds inviting compared to another day of 115‑degree heat here. Glad you took my letter in the spirit in which it was intended — bitter and cynical. Lost a race once to a guy who whipped out a kayak paddle after leaving the starting area. Grrr.

Afternoon wind is a way of life on southwestern rivers, and the high bow of my Rendezvous is like a sail, so I know what you mean. Still, I'm a stubborn old cuss, so I just push some weight forward, hunker down, and remember that it beats sitting in a multi‑agency coordination meeting. Speaking of which…

Happy paddling!




Double Vision Redux

Great article on double paddles for canoeists! But you left out another disadvantage of single paddling. I once went on a week‑long whitewater trip. At the time, switching sides was frowned upon (don't know if that is still the case). After a week of paddling only on the right side, the muscles in my body were so out of whack that my right hip was cocked upwards in what my spouse described as my "sex goddess pose"!

Greg Carpenter

• • •

Tamia replies:

You bring up a good point, Greg. (And your spouse has a wicked sense of humor.) Whether or not to switch sides when paddling solo is largely a matter of personal preference. Racers with short bent‑shaft blades and narrow boats often switch after every few strokes, but traditionalists with wider boats and longer blades tend to stick to one favored side, often (as you've noticed) with painful consequences. I usually try for a happy medium, myself, switching every few minutes in an attempt to share the load, so to speak.

A double‑bladed paddle makes this unnecessary, of course, though excessively offset blades can still put an irksome strain on the controlling wrist and arm. The solution? Reduce the offset (few modern paddles have blades offset by more 60 degrees, largely for this reason) or eliminate it altogether. This is another area where personal preference comes into play, obviously. I favor unfeathered (zero‑offset) blades; Farwell longs for the bygone days when 90‑degree blades were commonplace. And his wrists never gave him any trouble, either. Go figure.




The Siren Song of Strainers and Sweepers

Dear Tamia,

Thank you for writing "Whispering Death." I have male friends that will not listen to me and tell me I am crazy—that there is nothing to fear from a fallen tree. So they head right for them. I look forward to sending them your piece on the danger of sweepers and strainers. Again, thank you!


Shirley Catalina

• • •

Tamia replied:

I hear you, Shirley. Getting pinned against a tangle of low‑hanging branches by a fast current is not my idea of a good time — and it doesn't take too much of a current to qualify as "fast," either. Farwell and I have both had close calls with "whispering death," Farwell's in a little Class I‑II stream that barely warranted the label whitewater. It goes without saying that neither of us has any interest in repeating the experience.

I hope your friends' luck holds.


And Shirley wrote back:

It gets very frustrating when people don't listen. They say to me, "You're being way too SAFE! You need to LIVE a little. The water moves much faster near the trees, and it helps you to get down the river faster." Oh, my. I never know what to do when I am out there with them. I always carry a long line and two spare life jackets to throw if I have to. I am a fit 49‑year‑old female with years of being on the water, so it's not like I have not been there and done that. Take care, and safe travels always and forever!


To which Tamia replied:

Precisely. I want to live a little. And that means I want to stay alive. I also carry over a habit formed in my climbing days of not wishing to burden my companions with a rescue necessitated solely by my own foolhardiness. So I keep clear of sweepers and strainers. Period.


Whereupon Shirley wrote again:

I believe I will say that to them next time. NO, wait! I don't think there will be a next time. I am done with their attitude of "It will not happen to me; you're just a wimp." NO more paddling with the WRONG people. Thanks again, and keep on writing!



Heavy Metal Rocks!
But Be Sure to Check the Gasket First

"Heavy Metal," Tamia's article on refitting an ammo can as a camera box, got the attention of several readers who were looking for an inexpensive alternative to commercial waterproof camera cases, but it also elicited this cautionary note:

Dear Tamia,

I have an ammo box I bought in the early 1970s and painted red. It's still good for quietwater trips, but the rubber gasket won't hold up to a serious bashing and submerging any more. In the days when there were no such things as dry boxes and waterproof bags — except for the ever‑popular WWII‑era surplus black rubber bags — ammo boxes were de rigueur in everybody's canoe. Decked boats weren't that popular back then. I now own several dry bags and a Pelican box for my cell phone, but I can't bring myself to toss the ammo box. It still holds the basics for a trip, since I never unpack it.

Thanks for the update.

Tom Judge
Chicago, Illinois

• • •

Tamia replies:

It's good to hear from you again, Tom. You're right, of course. Gaskets often fail as the years take their toll. Nothing lasts forever — not even ammo cans. That's why I test mine every season. (I test my newer commercial dry bags and boxes, too.) Ever since Farwell fished a sodden pair of binoculars out of a (supposedly) dry bag floating in the bilge of his swamped canoe, we've been conscious of water's ability to go where it's not wanted. It's a lesson we're not likely to forget.



Zipped Up

What About Waterproof Cameras?

Hi, Tamia!

I'm surprised you did not mention [in "When 'Good Enough' Just Isn't"  — Editor] the Pentax W‑30 though W‑60 series. They have good resolution, zoom capability, and they're WATERPROOF! You can just stick one in you PFD pocket and be ready at water level for whatever comes along. And no, I don't work for Pentax. I'm just an owner who thinks this is a great camera.

Pat Loftus

• • •

Tamia replied:

Thanks for the heads‑up, Pat. It's good to hear that the current generation of waterproof point‑and‑shoot cameras is so capable. Which of the Pentax W‑series camera(s) have you used? There just might be a waterproof camera in my future, after all. And I'm sure I'm not alone. So please consider writing up a brief overview for's Product Reviews. Thanks!


To which Pat responded:

My camera is one of the originals, a Pentax Optio W‑20. They now sell a W‑60 at 10 megapixels. Time to upgrade!



Tamia's Cameras

Hi, Tamia!

I've been reading some of your "Backcountry Photography" articles. What is your camera of choice when paddling?

Cindy Landy

• • •

Tamia replied:

Whether I'm under way or ashore, I use one of three cameras, Cindy: a Pentax K200D digital SLR and two almost‑identical Canon PowerShot point‑and‑shoot models, an A550 and an A570IS. In other words, I take the same cameras afloat that I bring when hiking, cycling, or snowshoeing. None of these cameras is waterproof, by the way. In fact, I don't own a single waterproof camera. Yet. And yes, I do miss shots as a result, but not as many as you might think. Still, your needs may be very different from mine. For a quick snapshot of the state of the mart, including owner evaluations of a variety of waterproof cameras, why not check out the Reviews? And you might also want to take a look at's "Digital Cameras for Paddlers" feature, as well.

Good luck!


Later, Cindy asked one more question:

What kind of protection do you give your DSLR when in the boat? A bag or a hard plastic (e.g., Pelican) case?


To which Tamia replied:

Though I've accumulated quite an inventory of waterproof bags and boxes over the years, my Pentax DSLR most often travels in a modified ammo can. I've described this in some detail in "Heavy Metal Rocks!" Shooting in the wet poses special challenges, of course, even on land. "Snapping in the Rain" has some suggestions for coping.




Tamia's article describing how to download free PDF copies of US Geological Survey topographic maps ("On the Map: Topos to Go!") elicited the following helpful hints:

Putting Yourself On the Map in a Hurry

Hi, Tamia!

Here's the direct link to the page for the free topos. [NB You'll need to allow third‑party cookies in your browser's preferences in order to see the Map Locator  — Editor.]

Bob Hamilton

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the link, Bob! That certainly cuts right to the chase.



Tips From the Top

Hi, Tamia!

Very good article. You've written as clear a description of the user experience as I've seen, and it's even fun to read. Great job! Thanks, too, for your good words about the USGS. We're always doing our best to be relevant and serve you with whatever technology can offer. I hope your article gets indexed well by the crawlers so lots and lots of folks can benefit. It really is outstanding.

I have only a couple of tidbits of info to add: You can also get to the Map Locator by clicking on the link in the left nav bar below the Search box and the Advanced Search link. [See screenshot below  — Editor.] Note, too, that if you want to search for a particular map, there are TWO ways to search. You can look for a regular place name, which searches a place‑name database. You can also look for a map name, which searches a database of USGS topo map names. You can pick the kind of search just below the search box in the Map Locator, where it says "Search Type." This is all explained at the link called "Search Help."

I'm sure your readers will appreciate your work on this!

Best regards,

H. Kit Fuller, PMP
USGS Geospatial Information Office
Denver, Colorado

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm pleased that you liked "Maps to Go," Kit. And thanks for the tips about the alternate route to the Map Locator and the different search strategies.

Open Sesame



More Maps to Go

Dear Tamia,

First let me tell you that I LOVE your articles! Very well written. I just read the one you did on maps and would like to pass along a site I found and use, the site.

Keep up the good work!


• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for letting me know, Timothy. These are great guides to (US) federal lands and Indian reservations. Just the ticket for trip planning.



The "Lord of the Trees" on Isle Royale


Dear Tamia,

Enjoyed your article on the red squirrel ["Lord of the Trees"  — Editor]. It brought back great memories of a summer spent on Isle Royale, doing a fire ecology research project for the Park Service. We had a base camp near Rock Harbor, and the red squirrels knew we had food stored there, secured in a heavy wooden crate. They would wait until we were preparing a meal, then make a beeline for the open crate whether or not our backs were turned. It was a wonderful cat‑and‑mouse game trying to stay ahead of them.

While we were at backwoods campsites, our food was only protected by our packs. There are no bears on Isle Royale, but the presence of red squirrels made keeping food out of our tents a necessity, lest they chew through the fabric. I watched in awe one time as a red squirrel, by skill or luck, used his appendage to open a zipper on the pack, then quickly extract a plastic bag filled with gorp. He deserved those morsels for that amazing effort.

The gray jays were pretty aggressive, too, but could be domesticated, after a fashion. Whenever we made frying‑pan bread, a pinch of dough held between an outstretched thumb and first finger would entice a hungry jay to perch on my hand and extract the dough before flying off. There's no such thing as a free lunch, even for birds. By manipulating the pressure with which I held the piece of dough, I could get the birds to work a bit longer and harder to get their reward. It was great entertainment.

Best regards,


• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm delighted that "Lords of the Trees" brought back so many good memories, Buck, and I got a kick out of your battles of wits with the gray jays and red squirrels of Isle Royale. I've never seen a squirrel open a zipper, but Farwell once wakened in a groggy stupor to see an uninvited guest — a skunk, as luck would have it — push through the half‑open door of his tent, unbuckle a canvas kit bag he'd left at the foot of his sleeping bag, lift the bag's flap, rummage through the remnants of his lunch, and select a midnight snack of nuts and raisins. The skunk then carefully closed the flap and went on about his business, leaving Farwell alone to ponder his narrow escape.

Needless to say, Farwell doesn't keep food in his tent anymore. Not all nocturnal visitors are as well‑mannered (and even tempered) as that skunk!



Simple and Good — Vegetarian Camping


Dear Tamia,

Nice article. ["Eating Well in the Backcountry Without Meat or Milk"  — Editor]. I became aggressively vegetarian in 2006 in an effort to control cholesterol. I'm not vegan, but call it "worse than vegan," because vegans will eat things I won't, like coconut, and I use products like non‑fat dairy and honey that a vegan would not. My LDL has gone from 155 to 90, so the change has worked for me.

One of the pleasant surprises in going vegetarian is it greatly simplified my camping trips. I no longer need to concern myself with a cooler. Camp hygiene is easier. Subjectively, I seem to have less problems with animals around camp — without meat's scent around, the animals seem less interested. So, it surprised me that in your article you write about vegetarian camping being more challenging than carnivore camping. I feel quite the opposite is true. Vegetarian camping is simpler.

One of my staples since going veggie has been soy protein powder. Carbs are wonderful, but a veggie needs protein, too, and protein powder is an easy way to get it. At home, I usually blend it in smoothies with all kinds of juices, berries, and nuts. But on the river, it's usually just juice or water. For paddling campers, weight is not an issue, so I just bring bottled (plastic bottles, please — no breaking and easier to pack out) juice. On longer trips where space or weight is an issue, I bring some sort of powdered drink mix and add that to water and soy protein powder. Typically, this works as lunch for me. Using soy protein powder is a tip I think you should have included for veggie paddlers.

I got some new ideas from the recipes you presented. Thanks for the great article.

Chip Walsh
Gambrills, Maryland

• • •

Tamia replied:

I'm glad you enjoyed "Eating Well in the Backcountry," Chip, and a hearty well‑done on bringing down your cholesterol without recourse to costly meds.

I take your point about the simplicity of vegetarian meal‑planning and provisioning. The "challenge" I alluded to in my article is simply the difficulty that most of us experience when we leave familiar paths for new territory. The way ahead may indeed be easy, but until we've walked some distance down the trail, we can't be sure. Overcoming those nagging early doubts is the challenge I had in mind.

Thanks, too, for the tip about soy protein powder. I'd never used it. Now I will.


And Chip wrote back:

Ah, the challenge! You're right there. I remember, when I started eating this way, meal planning was a horror. I only knew about five dishes to cook. As my repertoire expanded, I came to an opposite view. Now, I kind of feel sorry for meat eaters, because there is so much more variety out there that meat eaters never try.


And Tamia responded:

My experience mirrored yours — up to a point, at any rate. I'm not a vegetarian, but meat certainly plays a much smaller part in my diet than it once did. And I, too, found meatless meal planning a bit of a hurdle at first. Now, however, it's become second nature. And my culinary horizons are much broader as a consequence. Thanks again for writing.



Of Streamlines, Dorothy Parker, and Gluttonous Bears

Dear Tamia,

Enjoyed your article ["A Discourse of Rivers: Current Affairs"  — Editor]; sorry you didn't take to A. A. Milne. What was Dorothy Parker's reaction? I thought I knew most of her wonderful responses to popular favorites.

I wonder if you might consider using another word for "streamlines." The word associates itself too strongly with "streamlining" and "streamlined", especially in the context of laminar and shooting flow and other aspects of hydrodynamics. Perhaps confusion, for readers new to whitewater and its vocabulary, would be avoided by "current lines" or "flow lines" or some other such substitution. I don't think your use of "streamlines" is wrong, just that any distraction or opportunity for misunderstanding (even if only momentary) should be avoided, and that expository prose should be as pellucid as the meltwater of which you write.

Best regards,

Jim Penistan

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm glad you found "Current Affairs" of interest, Jim. As you know already, I'm sure, Dorothy Parker reviewed books for the New Yorker during the 1920s and '30s, writing under the byline "Constant Reader." And her reaction to The House on Pooh Corner was characteristically acerbic, if more than a little arch:

And it is that word "hummy," my darlings, that marks the first place in "The House on Pooh Corner" at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

My response to Milne's classic was less extreme, I admit, but I can't say I'm a fan. Maybe I ought to give the book another go, however.

Changing tack now: I can see how my use of "streamlines" could lead to confusion. I haven't gotten any mail from puzzled readers to date, but I can't be sure I didn't lead a least a few folks astray. That said, I don't think I need to rewrite the copy immediately. We're planning a thoroughgoing — and long overdue — review of all the In the Same Boat articles, both old and new, and this will be the perfect opportunity to…er…streamline "Current Affairs."

In the meantime, thanks for all your help, past and present, in navigating the shoal waters of the English language.




OK. Maybe Dorothy Parker was too hard on The House on Pooh Corner. Farwell thinks so, at any rate. (But then he still keeps a bear‑shaped bottle of honey near his place at the breakfast table, too.) In any case, even though the days are getting shorter, the paddling season has a good distance to run before ice silences the voice of Canoe Country waters. So get out and paddle all you can, while you can. And drop us a line whenever you get the chance. "Our Readers Write" will be back in December. See you then!

A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to make sure, we'll assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes. (We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however.) We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

Copyright © 2009 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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